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Review: Dropnauts – J. Scott Coatsworth

Dropnauts - J. Scott Coatsworth

Genre: Sci-Fi

Reviewer: Olivia

Universal Buy Link | Bookshop.Org

About The Book

Life after the Crash.Over a century after the end of the Earth, life goes on in Redemption, the sole remaining Lunar colony, and possibly the last outpost of humankind in the Solar System. But with an existential threat burrowing its way into the Moon’s core, humanity must recolonize the homeworld.

Twenty brave dropnauts set off on a mission to explore the empty planet. Four of them—Rai, Hera, Ghost and Tien—have trained for two-and-a-half years for the Return. They’re bound for Martinez Base, just outside the Old Earth city of San Francisco.

But what awaits them there will turn their assumptions upside down—and in the process, either save or destroy what’s left of humanity.

The Review

The Scene

Ah, a classic space adventure with all kinds of fun new takes. Perfect! 

Fans of the Expanse will enjoy Dropnauts, which has a similar breadth and attention to detail with a more hopeful take. This one is an apocalyptimist tale: sure, everything went to hell. But it turned out okay after a while. I’m always a fan of that take; it encourages us to keep striving, even in the hard times. And Dropnauts definitely encourages the best in us! 

In a story that grapples with the work of doing the best with what our forbears left us to work with,  the Luna colony is dealing with a badly-designed old reactor that’s slowly destabilizing the lunar surface. Earth has been uninhabitable for a couple generations, but work has been done with dropped packets of genetically modified seed that will sequester carbon, help remove radiation, and the planet is just about ready to welcome her most wayward children home. The stakes are high, and the mistakes cost lives. But there is always hope.

In this story, we accompany our protagonists as we literally walk through the bones of our ancestors’ errors in the work of finding a better tomorrow. It can be harrowing, but it’s well worth the work. And the exploration of the ways that past events can shape (and sometimes warp) us as individuals and cultures is fascinating.

The Crowd

And wow, what a crowd it is! 

The story is mainly broken into five points of view: the POV of Aidan and his sister Ally, two siblings from one of the few remaining earth communities. The POV of two teams of dropnauts who accidentally land in separate locations. The POV of SAM, an AI working to defend the Dropnauts. And the POV of the Luna team acting in support and dealing with their own problems.  

Each set of characters is fascinating in their own right, deserving of their own novel almost. I could write paragraphs about any one set of characters: their hopes, their dreams and their deeds.

However, telling all their stories together and including the occasional extra POV or flashback sometimes resulted in the reader thinking ‘wait, where are we now?’ and flipping to check the cast page. 

But as I said, each character is an interesting person in their own right, and together they create a multifaceted team ready to meet all the challenges hurled at them.

Writing Style

And man, do the challenges ever get hurled. Challenges from above, challenges from below, challenges from the past and the future. Not to mention challenges from each other! Man oh man. What starts as a simple mission to scout the planet for livability and try to see what can be re-started in terms of industry to make life comfortable on Earth soon turns up old and still lethal weapons systems, human communities that made it by living underground and aren’t real happy to see their long lost cousins, and all kinds of surprises. AI trained to do battle by their human creators are still trying to fight wars long past (a nice callout of our historical-political issues there) and there are so many problems to solve. In the middle of the book, you’re sure it can’t be worked out. By the end, you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Throughout the work, the theme remains: we cannot forget the past, but we have to look forward. And we have to do it together, or we’re not going to make it. In ways both subtle and direct, Coatsworth drives this point home. All we have is each other. So we better get it together and take care of one another. We’re all we’ve got.

The Moves

Intricate and intense, the plot manages to never lose sight of the sapience and inherit dignity of the characters (I’m not using the word humanity because some of the characters are not human). In spite of all the craziness around them, every eventuality comes down to what it always has: what we choose to do in the moment, looking into one another’s eyes. Whether we hold out a hand or raise a fist, whether we step forward or cower, the choice is up to us. And so is the future. This story reminds us of that, and shows us in subtle ways that a little empathy can go an awful long way. To the stars, even.

Overall Rating

An inclusive and hopeful story, this work has all the fun of classic space adventures without all the cultural baggage of earlier entries in the genre. Enjoy!

The Reviewer

Olivia Wylie is a jack of all trades and a master of none. Trained in horticulture, she writes ethnobotany and horticulture under her own name and queer climate change fiction with a hopeful twist under the pen name of O.E. Tearmann. She lives in Colorado with a very patient partner and a rather impatient cat.